Centering Our Voices: Perspectives from Working Actors with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Listen to this post:

[The podcast audio is at the bottom of the post.]

Naomi Westerman wrote an illuminating blog post about how even when casting calls go out specifically for disabled talent, auditions are still sometimes held in physically inaccessible spaces. Or, as Maysoon Zayid points out, the attitudes of the directors can be a barrier. They may create an unrealistic and inaccessible spot by pitting some made up rules of non-disabled behavior against disabled people’s realities as if it’s a zero sum game.

No matter how progressive you think your work is, if you actively or passively exclude disabled people, you’re upholding outdated beliefs and practices. If you’re interested in being progressive and diverse, you have to really demonstrate it. And that means working to have accessible venues; disabled and non-disabled performers and people behind the scenes; and accessible presentations of your content through captions, interpreting, audio description, encouraging audiences be vocal or move around, low-stimulation presentations, or whatever you’re able to swing. Disabled and Deaf people of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, nationalities, citizenship statuses, ages, and classes can and should work on productions.

I’ll point you to a really nice critique of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time that drives home more to consider around representation. Because it’s not enough to get that accessible audition and then have an actor with a disability. It’s not enough to have a production where a character has a disability. (Or in some cases, we see a character coded as disabled, but the creators swear they weren’t going for that! Yeah, I’m talking to y’all, you big erasers from The Big Bang Theory. ) It would be really good if the work were really good too. Not just there, but good.

Everyone has a different opinion of what makes good art. Defining or debating “good” isn’t my goal with this post. My goal is to keep the focus on the experiences of disability community members when the topic is going to be disability.

So, this month’s podcast episode is a recording I made of Eliza Jensen, Debby McKnight, and Anne-Marie Plass who all work in theater and performance and train at PHAME. They did a panel for the TCG annual conference this summer, and I was fortunate to be their audio guy that day. Their panel is called “Centering Our Voices: Perspectives from Working Actors with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.” And extra thanks to The Sisters of Invention for your fabulous music and the permission to use it in today’s episode.

Click here for an accessible transcript of episode #064.